Arts and Crafts

Some of my best friends are artists. Or rather… some of my best friends are really good artists who can draw and doodle at the drop of a #4 Red Sable brush. Some of them are also pro artists and even exhibit and regularly sell their own paintings. I wish…The only time I sold a work of art was by accident when I painted a portrait of my sister which made her look like a long-nosed dinosaur with huge scary eyes and hair covered in pink custard. Very ‘Jackson Pollock’ I thought, although my sister was not impressed. A graphics illustrator from Leeds bought it for twenty quid and used it as inspiration for his next horror cartoon magazine. If you turn to page 12 of “Shazzam Monster Animator Monthly (January 2014)” you will see why my sister was so upset. Apologies for scaring the living daylights out of any of your children.
When proper artists paint a watercolour of—say—the River Axe at sunset, it looks great. It looks like it’s supposed to look—i.e. a river, a rowing boat, reed beds, a bird or two and a beautiful evening sky. My attempt at the same scene resembles a splodge of blue and orange with blurry black bits (supposed to be ducks) and in place of a boat, there’s something that looks very like a dead vulture poking out of the water. My arty endeavours over the years leave quite a bit to be desired and rather more to be imagined, but I keep trying.
I used to be part of an art class run by one of my good friends (she’s a seriously good artist and can even tell you the exact shade of yellow of the inside of a daffodil—Cadmium Yellow Pigment 37, in case you were wondering). I kept going for years without ever achieving even a minor masterpiece but, as she told me, “I must keep experimenting”. One of my so-called experiments was an oil painting of Sutton Bingham reservoir. It wasn’t too bad but I got bored with it one rainy afternoon and in a mood of complete frustration I added a German submarine to the foreground which failed to improve it. Probably the only reason I kept going to art was because I was the only man in her art class. It was much more interesting to sit and experiment with pencils and brushes when surrounded by attractive ladies.
To be a good artist, it helps if you’re a little weird. Picasso carried a real gun around and if you asked him about his art, he’d pull it out and threaten to shoot you. Salvador Dali kept a pet ocelot and stole the pens of all fans who asked him for autographs, while Michelangelo may have painted the Sistine Chapel, but he was a right stinker… he never bathed and only rarely changed his clothes. Despite a lifetime of painting ballet dancers and young ladies combing their hair, Edgar Degas was a dedicated misogynist who hated all women. He preferred racehorses apparently. Perhaps I’d be a better artist if I too cultivated a few weird behaviours like wearing a pair of underpants on my head or walking a live lobster around Bridport.
Degas once famously said: “Painting is easy when you don’t know how, but very difficult when you do.” This is SO true and it partly explains why my ten-year-old granddaughter is so much better at painting than I am. She looks at something and simply draws it. Voilà! Poetry on a page…
On the other hand, I first have to choose the medium: watercolour or acrylics? Today, it’ll be acrylics because water colours are too difficult since you can’t erase a brush stroke if you don’t like what you’ve done. Next, what type of paper? This means going through all my pads of paper—white, grey, dark red or buff yellow paper, or maybe acrylic canvas board? Some of them I’ve never ever used, but I like to have them there just in case. It’s strangely comforting. Then I can start to get ready. Firstly, I remove last week’s brushes from the cold cup of coffee, rinse them thoroughly and then dry them for no particular reason particularly as I’m about to wet them again. Repeat this rinsing and drying routine. Then I sit down, pour a fresh coffee (because the last one had traces of Burnt Sienna in it) and spend ten minutes contemplating. This is a very important moment artistically. I have to allow time to relax and let the image of what I intend to try and paint sink inside my brain… Deep breathing to help bring on the “inner me” etc. Then I remove an orange from the ‘Still Life Arrangement’ and eat it.
Finally, I draw a couple of lines (horizon or something) and then dabble a few round blobs of green paint to give the impression of some grapes. Then I make them too big and turn them into apples. My still life of ‘an orange with a bunch of grapes’ looks OK but it’s somehow missing something important. Ah yes… the orange. That’s why I lack the patience to ever become a great artist. I’m sure you get the picture. Or rather, in this case, you don’t.